A note from Brendan Norman, Executive Director

After spending the past ten years as the Executive Director of the Mt. Adams Institute (MAI), I have decided to step away from the organization.. . .  AND that’s a good thing! Let me tell you why.

In the beginning, MAI was just an idea that stemmed from finding myself at the proverbial professional (and personal) crossroads. The organization that I had spent the previous decade with was shutting down and I was soon-to-be unemployed. As a father of two young kids, a partner to a returning-to-school spouse and a resident of rural America, the necessity to find a new job was high but the local options for work were limited.  It was a stressful time that was made easier thanks to a great support system of friends and family, as well as easy access to nature.

Starting MAI was both a response to my personal situation (I needed a paycheck!) and a recognition that many other people could benefit from programs that helped them connect with the natural world. And while I spare you the stories of the startup struggles, I will tell you that even in the beginning I was thinking about how we could build an purposeful business that thrives beyond the transition of its founders.  The short answer: Work with great people to develop good structure and a positive work culture.

But before I get too wonky about organization development, let me share some of the highlights of what we have accomplished since MAI began:

We’ve created some incredible programs that strengthen the connection between people and the natural world!

We started a nation-wide career development program for military veterans interested in public lands / natural resource management jobs. While I was certain that VetsWork was going to have a positive impact, I never imagined that it would operate on this scale. Its success (and by that I mean the success our VetsWork Interns generated for themselves through the program) led to the development of our other related programs: VetsWork GreenCorps and Public Lands Stewards. All told, these programs have launched careers for hundreds of people.

Through partnerships and our own staff’s creative efforts, we operate education programs (Outdoor School, Summer Camp and the Sense of Place Lecture Series) that serve thousands of people annually in the Columbia River Gorge region. I got my start in this work because I loved helping young people connect with the outdoors. It has been incredible to see this happen in a variety of ways over the years.

The commitment and dedication of our staff and board has always amazed me. Even in the most challenging times (the start-up years, government shutdowns, global pandemic, etc . . .), they have worked hard to ensure that MAI meets its mission. And they’ve done it through a relationship based approach that aligns with the core values of the organization.

We also built the capacity of the organization. MAI is stronger, more resilient and more structured than it was in our early years. In fact, it is these qualities that made me realize that we’re ready for a new leader that can continue our positive impact while also helping us engage with a broader audience, especially those communities that are underrepresented in the outdoor sector.

And this is where you can help us. Please share the job opening with your network. It is an incredible opportunity to work with great people, impactful programs and in a positive work culture.

So what’s next for me? Well, I’m not leaving right away. I’ll be here through the Spring of 2022 to help recruit and train a new Executive Director. After that, I’m still working on the plan. My partner and I are about to become “empty nesters” and we’re figuring out what that entails for us. I’m pretty excited to consider new ways to mix purposeful work with time for personal growth.

Before I end, I need to share my appreciation and gratitude to all those individuals and organizations that helped make MAI a reality. It would not have happened without that support. I wish you all my best.

Please share the job opening with your network!

Read the press release at: https://mtadamsinstitute.org/mt-adams-institute-seeks-a-new-leader/

Mt. Adams Institute Seeks a New Leader

Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) is recruiting a new executive director. Current leader, Brendan Norman, announced his resignation effective May 1, 2022. Norman, along with MAI’s founding board of directors, created the organization in 2011.

MAI, a nonprofit organization based in Trout Lake, WA, operates a variety of programs that strengthen the connection between people and the natural world. MAI’s Summer Camp and Sense of Place Lecture Series serve many residents in the Columbia River Gorge region. MAI’s VetsWork and Public Lands Stewards programs provide career development opportunities to veterans and young adults interested in public lands and natural resource management jobs.

Over Norman’s tenure, MAI has grown in scale and scope every year. The organization currently operates with a budget of nearly $2,000,000, which supports eleven staff members and over 70 participants in its career development programs. MAI, also, reaches over 2,000 people annually through its education programs.

Brendan has been a great leader for the organization since it began. He helped turn a conceptual idea into a real organization that operates highly effective programs across the country. Part of his success is evident in the strength and resiliency of MAI. While we will miss him, we are in great shape for a new executive director to lead us into a new phase,” reports Elizabeth Holmes Gaar, MAI Board President.

“I am so proud of MAI’s accomplishments over the years which stem from the work of an incredible staff and board. I’m confident that we’ll find a new leader that will build upon the successes of the past decade,” says Brendan Norman.

MAI has launched a national search for a replacement. Information about the opening can be found at: https://mtadamsinstitute.org/employment/

Read more about Norman’s decision at: https://mtadamsinstitute.org/a-note-from-brendan-norman-executive-director/

Alumni Interview – Robyn Reeder

Congratulations to former Public Lands Stewards (PLS) Intern Robyn Reeder! She is the new Biotechnician at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Our Outreach Coordinator Trevor was lucky enough to sit down and talk with Robyn about her new position and how PLS helped her achieve her goals. Continue Reading…

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Am I Still on the River?

In honor of Great Outdoors Month, our AmeriCorps Program Director Aaron Stanton shared this thrilling story of his rescue on the river.

“In 2018 I had the good fortune to raft and kayak the Grand Canyon.  The trip did not end the way I would have liked, but it still changed me. Continue Reading…

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Mt. Adams Institute Receives $1.1 Million in AmeriCorps Funding

Mt. Adams Institute Receives AmeriCorps Grant to Continue Programs


Trout Lake, WA – Mt. Adams Institute has received a $1,119,904 grant from AmeriCorps the federal agency responsible for national service and community volunteerism.

This funding will support up to 95 AmeriCorps members across the country participating in Mt. Adams Institute’s career development programs: VetsWork Environment, VetsWork GreenCorps and Public Lands Stewards. These programs are designed to improve recreation, access, and conservation of our natural resources, while launching military veterans and young adults into careers within the public lands management field.

This AmeriCorps grant will allow us to build on a successful history of helping military veterans and young adults find meaningful careers with public lands agencies and other natural resource organizations,” said Brendan Norman, Executive Director of Mt. Adams Institute.

Mt. Adams Institute AmeriCorps members serve on conservation projects such as trail maintenance; visitor engagement, wildlife research, environmental education, geographic information mapping, invasive species monitoring, and community volunteer coordination.

This grant comes as a direct result of the success of the program. Since 2014, 81% of VetsWork participants who completed the program have been offered employment within the field. With this growth, Mt. Adams Institute looks forward to establishing new local partnerships and providing more opportunities for veterans and young adults to experience the outdoors while shaping their career path.

AmeriCorps will provide an additional $470,000 in Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards for the AmeriCorps members funded by this grant. After completing a full term of service, AmeriCorps members receive an award of approximately $6,300 that they can use to pay for college or to pay off student loans.

For the past year, thousands of AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Seniors members across all 50 states and U.S. territories have continued their service, quickly adapting to meet the changing needs caused by the pandemic. Dedicated members have persisted to support communities as they respond and recover from the impact of COVID-19, developing new ways to deliver the same services to keep both themselves and those they serve safe.

The recently passed American Rescue Plan includes an additional $1 billion for AmeriCorps. The agency will use this investment to expand national service programs into new communities and increase the opportunity for all Americans to serve their country.

Every year, 75,000 AmeriCorps members serve through thousands of nonprofit, community and faith-based organizations across the country. These citizens have played a critical role in the recovery of communities affected by disasters and helped thousands of first-generation college students access higher education. They also tutor and mentor young people, connect veterans to jobs, care for seniors, reduce crime and revive cities, fight the opioid epidemic, and meet other critical needs.

As the federal agency for volunteering and service, AmeriCorps brings people together to tackle the county’s most pressing challenges. Since the agency’s inception in 1994, nearly 1.2 million AmeriCorps members have served the nation.

Mt. Adams Institute matches the grant funding with additional support from project partners, including but not limited to the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Columbia River Gorge National Fish Hatchery Complex, King Conservation District, Oregon State Parks, Willamette Resources and Education Network, and Willamette Riverkeeper.

Locally, VetsWork and Public Lands Stewards AmeriCorps members have provided over 42,000 hours of service at local Gorge sites over the past five years including the Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Columbia River Gorge National Fish Hatchery Complex, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and the Gifford Pinchot and Mt. Hood National Forests.

Mt. Adams Institute is a nonprofit organization with a mission to strengthen the connection between people and the natural world through education, service learning, career development and research. More information about the organization can be found at: mtadamsinstitute.org

AmeriCorps is a federal agency that engages millions of Americans in national service programs. For more information, visit www.NationalService.gov .

VetsWork: A Mission to Inspire


There have been many times that I’ve faced landscapes which felt utterly surreal even before my own eyes, but my first trip to Mount St. Helens might be the most surreal landscape thus far.

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As photographed as this location is, I fear that not a single picture can accurately describe the feeling of its imposing presence as you stand before it. Not only the mountain, but the severely scarred landscape around it just tells a gripping story of regrowth that you can literally witness with the passage of time. It’s this sense of awe and fascination with the natural world which I seek and try to provide to others. It’s what I hope to provide to those who may be reading this who may not already have this appreciation.

That being said, I’ve taken up two projects that I’m looking forward to. The first, and quickly approaching, is to teach a group of about thirty 6 – 12 year olds the value of forest ethics. Not only will I be teaching them in basic Leave No Trace (LNT) fundamentals, but also the proper method to put out fire. And considering the age range, there will be fun and games to go along with instruction! I’m hoping it’s not only fulfilling for me, but at least one of them learns something they won’t forget.

The second project should be happening in October at the Vancouver Community Library. I’ll be hosting a book reading of sorts where the goal is to inspire awe and wonder of the natural world in those in attendance. There are many things in nature which are amazing, but we generally take for granted as they seem like an everyday occurrence to us, such as a rainbow.

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My hope is to enhance the scientific literacy of young people (adults too if they come) and to encourage a desire to learn about the natural world so they, too, can experience the magic of reality.

In the meantime, I’ll be trying to get outside more. If you know me and want some forest fresh air, just let me know!

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VetsWork: Mid-year reflection on the Mark Twain National Forest


As we break for the 4th of July holiday, “It’s all downhill from here…” my supervisor mentions. The summer solstice has passed and I too have reached the midpoint of my internship with the Forest Service via the Mt Adams Institute VetsWork program. So far I have explored a plethora of places I have never been before and have made some new friends along the way. Not to mention getting some awesome training with some chainsaws.

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Up ahead, I still have big plans for the White Oak Trail and the Woodchuck Trail which have become the focus of most of my attention outside of my regular duties. I plan on getting some heavy equipment certifications, as well; which I am pretty excited about. Some days, as I ponder over the historical natural areas and their beauty, it’s easy to forget this is work. But, the job we accomplish each day leaves our parks and recreation areas more beautiful than before and it’s something to be proud of.

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VetsWork: “Canoeing Coldwater Lake in search of Eurasian Milfoil”


On a 93 degree day, nobody wants to do trail work or any type of hard labor outside. It seems on the 29th and 30th of June I lucked out and landed an opportunity that provided a cool environment and a lot of sunshine. Eurasian Milfoil. Yes, an aquatic invasive plant species was the reason I spent two entire days canoeing and trenching through Coldwater Lake, getting badly sunburned and shivering until my lips turned blue. Not to mention, our crew for the project was so cool, I can say this is an experience that I will not forget.

Monday the 29th started with a 2 hour drive to the lake. I was pretty excited for this project, not just because it was 93 degrees and I was dying to get out on the lake; but it was a different type of opportunity that I haven’t experienced yet. It was a chance to learn about species inside of a lake that was formed from the result of a volcanic blast. Although we focused heavily on Eurasian Milfoil, I was with a fish biologist and a group with plenty of experience identifying aquatic plants.

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The first day was a recon day where I met with a couple of plant experts from Skamania County who provided me with a lesson in Milfoil and the various other plants growing at 20ft depths in the lake. We paddled along the West, South and North shore of Coldwater Lake plotting points of plant species by dragging a rake connected to a rope and looking through a tube with a clear lens on the end. Low tech devices, but highly effective. We were able to compare our results from a survey in 1998 and realize that the Milfoil levels have mysteriously gone down. Although I did not get my hands on these notes, we were briefed that it was a dramatic decrease in Milfoil in comparison to our findings. We were only able to find Eurasian Milfoil in and around the stream on the west end of the lake.

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The following day we set up two 30ft nets at a marked point in the stream to create one giant net. This is where we broke into our job duties that included 3 forest service master divers, 3 people with hand nets collecting fragments of milfoil in the water and another three assisting the divers by collecting the milfoil that the divers pulled and placing them into mesh bags. By now, I imagine you are wondering why I haven’t completely described the problem with Eurasian Milfoil yet. Eurasian Milfoil is an aquatic invasive species native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. It reproduces from small leaf fragments floating in the water and fragments very easily. It also destroys other plant life by pulling oxygen from the water and blocking sunlight. There are plenty of other details of this species, I just want you as my reader to understand that it’s invasive and a problem. It can also be spread by boats, boat trailers and water fowl.

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My first duty was to follow one of our divers with a mesh net. He snorkeled through waist high water in the stream, pulling the milfoil by the roots where I followed up by placing the chunks of milfoil into a mesh bag. This went on for about an hour until the water reached up to my neck, where our diver traded out his snorkel for a couple of diving tanks. There wasn’t a whole lot of me moving around in this neck deep water and this lasted for about another hour. My movements were about 6 inch steps every 45 seconds. I eventually started shivering and I was told my lips turned blue. As you can imagine I was also told to get out of the water. I was a little bummed over that, but was relieved to go post up in the sunshine for a while. From there, my duty was to help out by netting fragments of milfoil in the water and also empty out mesh bags for our people that were assisting the divers.

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Being out in the sun definitely had its perks; it helped me have a speedy recovery from getting cold in the water and it also felt so good considering I haven’t sat out in the sun like that since last summer. Then, I was told to get out of the water again. Apparently (which now I can really feel), my back was annihilated by the sun. I had already put on a huge amount of SPF 40 sunblock before coming out, but clearly my skin is not accustomed to that much sunlight. I was then told to hold out my arms and got sprayed with massive amounts of SPF 70. It actually smelled pretty good, but I’m not sure how long it lasted considering I went directly back into the water.

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We finished up at about 4:30pm. By the looks of things, our manual pulling efforts have cleared Coldwater Lake of its Eurasian Milfoil problem. We then gathered up all supplies, took some soil samples to examine the volume of the soil that the milfoil was growing in and debriefed. We talked about methods that we found useful for pulling the weeds and also discussed how effective we thought our efforts were. Unfortunately in most cases a manual pull is not very effective for eradicating milfoil, but our observations of the milfoil not acting as invasively as it normally does is keeping our hopes up. It sounds like we may go back in August and see if the problem continues. I guess we can only keep our fingers crossed.

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VetsWork: Mt. Hood’s Beautiful East-side

With our incredibly sunny/warm Spring season it seemed impossible not to notice all the awesome flowering going on everywhere!  For the months of May and June (some of July) I’ve been and will be spending my time out on the Hood River and Barlow Districts of Mt. Hood.



Much of the initial work I was doing out here consisted of capturing all the campgrounds (condition surveys) which entailed traveling, essentially, the entire east side of Mt. Hood.  The meadows out here are intense. I’m very much in love with the east side!


The folks out here are warm/welcoming and have afforded me opportunities for which I’m very grateful.  I’ve worked a little bit with the east-side archaeologist and have some more survey work coming in July. This has been a special treat for me as it connects another avenue from my past to present that I’ve long since visited.


Enjoy Vetswork!  Nature is good!


VetsWork: Wilderness Areas – Not Always Sunshine and Rainbows


This past month has been really exciting getting to work in Wilderness areas. As an inspiring Wilderness Technician this hands on experience is making me appreciate them more and more. I love the whole wilderness character aspect of them and that it’s a place to get away from all the BS that life throws at you. They’re a place to get some solitude and gain that primitive feeling I enjoy. In the month of May I have been cleaning up the trail on both Rock Pile and Bell Mountain Wilderness with the help of 9 AmeriCorps crew members out of Denver. It feels good getting back into the leadership role and is great experience leading a trail crew working with crosscut saws and various other trail tools. Its hard work and I love it, getting dirty everyday going home feeling like I made a difference. I tell my crew that this job isn’t always sunshine and rainbows so don’t be afraid to get down and dirty. Below is picture taken at Bell Mountain Wilderness which covers 9,027 acres and is part of the St. Francois Mountains.

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Here’s a picture of the crew heading into Rock Pile Wilderness to get some work done. In May, we brushed and logged out a 4 mile trail in the Rock Pile Wilderness, a wilderness area covering 4,131 acres. The crewmembers are between the ages of 18-24 both male and female and from all over the U.S. Their duty station is out of Denver, Colorado where they’ll report back to once their gig is up here in mid-July.

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I have also gained my red card certification and am now a Firefighter Type 2 so I am really hoping to get out west this summer and get a fire under my belt. That would be a great experience and good way to get on with the U.S. Forest Service at the end of my VetsWork internship.

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VetsWork: Learn Something New Everyday, About Yourself or the World Around You

Here we are at the end of spring and at the beginning of summer. As the summer solstice approaches, the days are incredibly long and I am able to enjoy more sunsets. I do not know why, but even though I’ve been in Oregon for 3 summers now, I am still surprised by how late the sun sets here. Being that I am from Florida, the days in the northwest are much longer than the southeast –I believe it’s by a good hour or so. I love long days! They allow me to be outside more on a daily basis and my husband and I are able to enjoy at least a part of the day together after work. Plus, it’s no fun waking up when it’s dark outside.

I have finally found my groove in the office and am even accurately remembering names of the lovely people around here. I still can’t believe how nice everyone is and how willing to help out with things. I have remained quite busy these past few months and have continued to learn something new every day. I truly believe that if a person doesn’t learn something new every day, whether it is about themselves or about the world around them, then they are not living life properly. If you just realized you are one of these people – it’s not too late to learn something today! If you ever want to hear a random and often useless fact, I’m full of them.

Last month we had our Watershed Field Days for the area 5th graders and it was a lot of fun! It was nice to see the results of our work in trying to organize it this year. In total, there were nearly 800 students that were able to participate in learning about everything watershed related. The students were in eight groups and rotated between different stations throughout the day. They learned about water quality, plant identification, macroinvertebrates (as pictured below), wildlife, weather, soils, first foods, and stream stabilization. It was an exhausting yet fun filled week for me.


Another event I was able to participate in was the Salmon Summit held in Kennewick, Washington. This is a celebration and learning day for the area’s 5th graders who have participated in “Salmon in the Classroom”. The kids would release the salmon raised from eggs in their class and release them into the river and afterwards spend the day learning from various presenters about salmon related matters. This was something that was looming since I started in February. At first it was a little intimidating to be asked if I could lead a 20 minute interactive presentation of my choice to multiple groups of kids. That day had come and I prepared a presentation from almost scratch. I decided to do an activity about invasive species of the Columbia River. In the beginning it was going to be how these invasive species affected the salmon, but that was a little easier said than done. It morphed into the most interesting invasive species of the Columbia River. While figuring out how I was going to pull it off, I decided to go with colorful and part interactive and part teaching. I ended up with 6 species and was able to turn it into a game of sorts. I posted the picture of the board I came up with. I’d read a story about the animal or plant and then have the kids in 6 different groups and they’d work together to put up the cards in the correct box. Pictured below is what the finished result would look like. It was fun and I think the kids enjoyed it. The teachers would even come and tell me that they learned something from it. I got help from another VetsWork member – Jonathane Schmitt who does the invasive species work around Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Overall, it has certainly been an eventful past two months. We are gearing up for Natural Resource Career Camp for Young Women that takes place at the end of the month and then I’m off to Ukiah to tackle the wilderness portion of the internship – which will hopefully include more aesthetic forest/nature photos. I am also scheduled to attend Incident Qualification (a.k.a. red-card) training in a couple weeks and will be working alongside the GreenCorps crew on that.


My husband has been looking all over the western portion of the U.S. for permanent wildland fire positions. The good news is that he got a job! The bad news is that it’s 9+ hours away in Nevada. I want to finish the internship out so we’ll be living in different states for the time being. It’ll be hard but we’ve lived apart before and it probably won’t feel too different than a regular wildland fire season since he’s hardly home during that time anyways. The place he’s going to seems nice. Looks like it’s going to be high desert terrain which is similar to the area we’re in now. I’m looking forward the possible opportunities that I may have down there after the internship!


That’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading!

VetsWork: “Thanks for Doing What You Do.”


A mentor from a non-profit once told me “People sometimes have bad attitudes towards volunteers due to lack of training and experience, but the truth is, these people are working 40 hour work weeks and volunteering weekends to make a difference. How many people actually do that?” The biggest question that I would have for that statement, which is a question for those of us who understand what they do, is how do we show them that we care? What can I do?


Volunteers at Get Outdoors Day in Vancouver, WA.

Working with volunteers is the majority of my job while interning for the Forest Service. These volunteers are mostly working full-time and selling their time off for a noble cause and a smile. One thing that a majority of my volunteers will get is education to complete their volunteer goals and a snack after the project is done. You might be asking who would ever return for that, and the answer might lie in a similar thank you that some of us vets received after volunteering to sign a contract to Uncle Sam: ‘Thanks for doing what you do’.


Work project during VetsWork Quarterly Training at Broadfork Farms.

So many people have said that to me while I was serving in the Air Force and it always felt so good. It left me with an overpowering proud feeling that I couldn’t describe to anyone else, unless they’ve been thanked in the same manner. But how many times have we said stuff like this to volunteers? Volunteers are often undervalued for their work. Like an underrated player in the NFL, they may not be recognized as much as the well known players, but the job could not be done without them. Volunteers are working full-time and giving away their time off without asking for anything in return. And how can we recognize them? We can recognize them by letting them know that they are making a huge difference and they are doing something that they should be proud of.


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White Salmon Delta Riparian Willow Planting (Before and Current as of 5/2015)

I’ve had my first chance to thank volunteers for what they do. One in particular, I followed out to his car and thanked him one last time for giving a helping hand on painting the seasonal bunk houses followed by a firm hand shake. As he climbed into his car, he asked what we had going next and if our organization could contact him for the next volunteer opportunity. That ‘thank you’ may not be why he volunteered, but it might be why he’s planning to keep volunteering. That right there leads me to believe that saying ‘Thanks for doing what you do’ is how we can show our volunteers that we care. I don’t make enough money to throw a party for them to celebrate what we accomplished (like they deserve), but I can provide them with a genuine ‘thank you’ and let them know that their work is of huge value to us and the surrounding communities.


White Salmon Restoration Project

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VetsWork: Career Building – From Dream to Reality.


Hello all! Only a few months into my new internship with the Forest Service and all is going well. This internship is a time of exploration to learn what I like most and to get a better sense for career/college direction hereafter. I have had many opportunities already to connect with several departments with an array of activities and trainings. This includes work with administrative/clerical, archeology, engineering, fire, recreation, and timber.


Although I have had more exposure in some departments over others, I have begun to get an understanding of each one in itself. As time goes on, this will help me find my niche and reach my goal of deciding an area of study for the Forest Service or any other related agency. Soon, I will connect with other areas as well to further learning and keep this goal moving forward.

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To be honest, in the back of my mind I do have an idea already of what I may like to pursue as a career. However, I am allowing all experiences/trainings and internship completion before choosing. My career choice needs to be definite. There are many traveling opportunities working for the Department of Agriculture and travelling to new places is a favorite pastime and I do welcome this…depending on where it is of course. Not sure what is to come at or near the end of my internship but am very grateful for this time spent with the VetsWork program on the Mark Twain National Forest gaining new skills and trainings to aid in my future.

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